Friday, 24 March 2017

Fera at Claridge's

Written by Nick Chaudakshetrin


Brook St, London



Food and wine are a classic combination. Fine dining restaurants around the world employ sommeliers to match their menus with a wine that will bring characteristics that complement the dishes. For the teetotaller, abstemious or assigned drivers of the world, they might just be given some mineral water or a fruit juice. Little effort has been made to grant the same enjoyment for those of us who wish to go to sleep without a headache or enjoy an afternoon without requiring a nap.

Now Fera at Claridges together with Postcard Teas have combined to offer an interesting and different take on this classic pairing. Matching fine teas with food. This may sound simple, but there's a reason why wine can be matched so well with food. With wine, you can vary the sugar and the sharpness level to perfectly complement the dish you are serving. This is not possible with tea. Consequently, my guest and I were very interested to see how this problem had been approached and whether it would be an interesting novelty or a real alternative that should be seen more widely.

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We started our meal with our first tea, a High Mountain Oolong, which was delicious. It smelled like walking through a freshly mown lawn and was refreshing with only the slight hint of bitterness. It was served with a starter of hake and parsley mousse. As expected, the tea struggled without any natural acidity when paired with the rich, salty and incredibly smooth fish mousse. Although I was enjoying both flavours, I had yet to be convinced that they belonged together.

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Our fish course came next, a delightful combination of perfectly cooked halibut with iron rich parsley and leek. The tea which arrived with it was unlike any I had tasted before. It was salty and savoury with a pine/woody aroma. When served with the fish, these flavour notes perfectly matched the dish. It appears, this idea has legs after all.
The main arrived, a stunning and delicate looking piece of lamb cooked on the bone. Pieces of crispy sweet bread and sharp pickled mushrooms ticked all the right flavour and texture notes. With this savoury dish was served a tea the colour of dark gold. It was a revelation. It smelt of caramel and coca nibs. When it was tasted, this changed into a rich coffee but still refreshing and light. When matched with the lamb the flavours married perfectly.

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Feeling replete by this stage we wondered what they would serve to match desert, a classic combination of rhubarb and cream. We were presented with another delicious glass, this time of a light cleansing Darjeeling. However, we were informed that because of the difficulty of matching tea with a highly sweet dessert it would be better to have this as a post meal cleanser.
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The meal was delicious and the tea at times was a perfect accompaniment. However, it became clear that whilst delicious, the tea did not have the sheer range that wine can employ. This concept is definitely worth pursuing but it is probably easier to match food to tea rather than the other way around. I would definitely try the experience again but a bit more refinement could lift this pairing to a new level.

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